Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How One Atheist Lives Without Morality

In "Confessions of an Ex-Moralist," atheist philosopher Joel Marks writes of his moral deconversion from an atheist who believed morality existed even without God to an atheist who came to see that, without a God, morality cannot exist.

Marks quotes atheist Louise Antony as exemplary of the kind of atheism + objective morality that he has left behind. Antony writes: “Another charge routinely leveled at atheists is that we have no moral values. The essays in this volume should serve to roundly refute this. Every writer in this volume adamantly affirms the objectivity of right and wrong.”

Marks responds: "But I don't. Not any longer." He describes how he changed: "In my most recent published book, I defended a particular moral theory – my own version of deontological ethics – and then “applied” that theory to defend a particular moral claim: that other animals have an inherent right not to be eaten or otherwise used by humans. Oddly enough, it was as I crossed the final “t” and dotted the final “i” of that monograph, that I underwent what I call my anti-epiphany."

Since "essential to morality is that its norms apply with equal legitimacy to everyone; moral relativism, it has always seemed to me, is an oxymoron. Hence I saw no escape from moral nihilism." For Marks it's like two people watching the same sunset, one finding it awe-inspiring, the other finding it banal. Marks came to see the ideas of objective "right" and "wrong," on Antony's kind of atheism, as just another form of religion; the "Godless God of secular morality, which commanded without commander, whose ways were even ore mysterious than the God I did not believe in, who at least had the intelligible motive of rewarding us for doing what He wanted."

Indeed. And correct, logically. What can be more irrational then an atheist who believes in "objective morality?" Marks says he "is no longer in the business from trying to derive an ought from an is." Now it's simply a matter of what one likes or dislikes. Marks writes: "My outlook has therefore become more practical: I desire to influence the world in such a way that my desires have a greater likelihood of being realized... I will be moved by my head and my heart. Morality has nothing to do with it."

I think:
  1. Marks is correct that, on atheism, objective moral values do not exist.
  2. It's correct that, on atheism, the ideas of "right" and "wrong" only concern what a person likes or dislikes.
  3. With this we're heading towards the views of the atheistic existentialists; viz., imposing one's own will on others. Marks uses the softer word "influence" - influencing others so that his desires get realized. I feel certain this, also, is true; viz., that atheism's only alternative is the exertion of power to get one's way.
  4. I applaud Marks's logically consistent atheism, and appreciate his view that an atheist who reasons that morality is "objective" have themselves posited a "God" who is even stranger than the God of theism.
  5. Finally, since I believe in God, I have reason to believe objective morality exists. Marks's view adds confirmation to Premise 1 of the Moral Argument for God's Existence which reads: 1) If there is no God, then objective moral values do not exist.